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Syria: release of political prisoners welcomed

Syria: Amnesty International welcomes the release of political prisoners

Amnesty International today welcomed media reports that the Syrian government has ordered the release of some 312 political prisoners, including prisoners of conscience, as part of a presidential pardon.

Over one hundred Syrian Kurds are said to be included in the releases, as are two Syrian prisoners of conscience, Muhannad al-Dabas and Muhammad 'Arab, who have been detained for almost one year. They were sentenced in March 2005 by the Supreme State Security Court (SSSC) to three years' imprisonment in connection with their participation in a protest at the University of Damascus against a new government policy ending guaranteed employment of engineering graduates by the state.

Amnesty International has been calling for many years for the release of prisoners of conscience, fair and prompt trials for political prisoners, and investigations into all cases of torture and ill-treatment in Syria. In March 2005, the organization released a report on human rights abuses against Kurds in Syria which described the arbitrary arrest of hundreds of Kurds since March 2004. At the beginning of this month, at least 180 Kurds were still detained, most of them without trial. It is not known as yet how many of them are amongst those to be released.

Amnesty International hopes that the releases are the beginning of a new phase in Syria in which respect for human rights is put firmly on the government's agenda. While welcoming the releases, Amnesty International continues to urge the Syrian authorities to release hundreds of prisoners and conscience and political prisoners who remain in prolonged detention without trial or are serving sentences imposed after unfair trials. These include the scores who have "disappeared" following their arrest or detention by Syrian security services.

Background Thousands of people, mostly Syrian Kurds and people suspected of affiliation to banned political parties or human rights groups, have over the last few years been arbitrarily detained. They have been held incommunicado for prolonged periods in secret locations without being referred to a judicial authority, or having access to their lawyers or families; many have been subjected to torture and other ill-treatment. Over the past year, at least nine Syrians including five Kurds died reportedly as a result of torture and ill-treatment in custody. Most of those arrested were released after periods in detention without charge, but hundreds remain in detention either without charge or after grossly unfair trials. Hundreds of Kurds were detained following violent disturbances in north-eastern Syria in March 2004 during which at least 36 people, mainly Kurds, were killed (see AI report Syria: Kurds in the Arab Republic one year after the March 2004 events, March 2005, index number: MDE 24/002/2005).

Take action! Syria: A culture oppressed – the torture and imprisonment of Syrian Kurds

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